Schools out/Pupae in

Today was Campbell’s last day as a Fifth Grader. Had he still been in Brooklyn, this would have been Graduation Time, but fortunately, our school district doesn’t move kids out of Elementary School until end of Seventh Grade, which gives him another year at the delightful Phoencia school, alongside all his new friends. But either way, to quote the great Alice Cooper, school’s out for summer – and summer is officially in until fall. Have we really been living in the Catskills for a year already?

No we have not. American summer school holidays are notoriously long, the classrooms staying empty throughout July and August. Guess we’ve been living up here just over nine months instead, but man has it moved fast. Any hopes we had of a quiet life have been more than dissipated by work load, baby load (and the inevitable dishwasher/washing machine loads), not counting the ongoing search for the ideal home which has ended with us opting to build one instead.

Still, unlike many parents we know – and unlike our former New York City selves– at least we won’t be following the path of least-obtrusive-but-most-expensive resistance and putting our son in day camp for most of the next ten weeks. (This is a familiar process that seems, for all but the wealthiest, as if you are working merely to earn enough money to put your kids into a summer camp so you have time to keep working to earn the money to put your kids into a summer camp.) At least for this one more summer, Posie will be a full time home keeper, and I know she’s looking forward to having our ever-lively Campbell bouncing around the place and, presumably, helping watch over our freshly walking, ever-smiling Noel.

Theo Walcott training for the World Cup. Little does he know he’s about to be called in for his dinner, and to help his dad set the table…

(A side note about the baby, whose operation now seems a distant memory but for his scar. Noel has entered the malfunctioning robot stage. Sit down for dinner and instinctively he’ll waddle over to the cutlery draw and bring you a knife, which is the sweetest thing in the world. Then he’ll waddle back over, and bring out another knife. And another. And one more. Ask for a fork and you’ll get… another knife. I haven’t yet found the correct setting for the full dinner set, but I love it all the same.)

Me, I’ll be glad not to be setting the alarm quite so early as to get Campbell down to school every day, and I hope I am also encouraged to take the occasional day off, presumably to go run a mountain or something. (At least until July 30th, after which I will probably swear off the trails for life.) But seriously, summer in these parts is endlessly beautiful, and it’s already been hard enough keeping the nose to the grindstone over this past week’s heatwave without the prospect of watching the rest of the family set off for the lakes, the beaches and the occasional air-conditioned cinema. Don’t be surprised, then, if I go occasionally AWOL on you in coming weeks.

iJamming!’s lone Phoenicia-based Pubber, Mark Lerner, dropped a comment on the website the other day, taking me to task for reviving the “rural myth” of the “government fly.” He then dropped round to return my Art Brut CD and pick up the thread in person. My own confusion on the issue is a result of constantly conflicting hearsay: while it doesn’t seem logical that the Government, or even the DEC, would “release” thousands of flies to tackle millions of caterpillars, it’s amazing how many people up here take it for granted. Fellow writers who’ve spent their lives at the behest of fact-checkers repeat it without a second thought. Music business friends who spend their days adding up budgets convince me of a new occurrence. Besides, when has our Government ever conformed to logic?

Caterpillars snuggling up together: Release The Flies!

Finally, the local paper has gotten in on the act. This fornight’s Phoenicia Times devotes over a page to “The Skinny On Caterpillars,” but seems almost willfully determined to perpetuate the myth.

“We asked about rumors, largely from Woodstock, that the state DEEC might have released black flies to combat the plague of caterpillars, or maybe even sprayed.

“They might have done that in the past, but not anymore,” Horticulture Educator Teresa Rusinek replied. “I’ve heard those stories.”

Whether she is referring to black flies or spraying is not made clear.

The paper then continues,

As for the release of flies to combat the caterpillars (The man in charge of pesticides at regional DEC headquarters in New paltz said) he’d “not heard that one.”

Which means he’s either sleeping or lying on the job. Just google “tent caterpillars” and “Government flies” and you’ll see what I mean. Let me quote from a Forest Service web site (registered with a Government Domain, for all you conspiracy fans):

The natural enemy of Forest Tent Caterpillar is a large gray fly locally referred to as the “friendly fly” or the “government fly”. It is a native parasite that has evolved with FTC. It lays tiny maggots on the cocoons of FTC. The maggots eat the developing pupa found inside a cocoon. It becomes very numerous near the end of outbreaks, killing many of the FTC pupae. In many cases the flies become more of a nuisance than the caterpillars. This fly does not bite but often lands on people… thus the name of friendly fly. They also like to land on laundry, light colored cars and siding. The name government fly refers to a common misconception that these flies are released by government agencies to control FTC. This is not the case, this fly is a native parasite of FTC and its great numbers at the end of outbreaks are just part of the population dynamics of FTC.

In other words, we should celebrate the mass appearance of gray flies as evidence that the caterpillar scourge is reaching the end of its two-four year cycle. Yippee. Next spring, you will therefore be pleased to know, I plan to write about something entirely different. Possums, perhaps. Or deer. Or garden snakes.

Or bears, whose appearance round these parts is often apocryphal, but frequently provable. Driving home from the Summer Solstice Run along the back roads behind the Ashokan Reservoir Wednesday night, I was just counting my luck that three deer caught in my headlights did not run across my path as I rounded a corner, when a black bear shot across the road but a few feet in front of my vehicles. Do bears “shoot”? Or do they just lumber? All I know is that had this one got a fraction slower, I’d have hit it head on. And if there’s one proponent of road rage I don’t want to encounter, it’s a black bear with a sore head. Have a great weekend.

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November 2022